2023-24 Faculty Fellowship

The 2023-24 Warren Center Faculty Fellowship will be on the theme of The Future of Black Power Studies: Ideas, Institutions, Insurgencies led by Brandon M. Terry (Harvard University) and Jarvis R. Givens (Harvard University Graduate School of Education).
The Warren Center, Harvard’s research center for United States history, invites applications for a workshop on The Future of Black Power Studies. In 1994, the activist and philosopher Angela Y. Davis complained that the nostalgic uses of her 1970s image, and the broader iconography of the Black Power Movement, effectively reduced “a politics of liberation to a politics of fashion.” Long after Davis’ lament, it is difficult to deny that much of the popular memory of the Black Power Movement remains bewitched by this iconography. Invocations of the movement remain — in documentary, film, and memory — bound to a familiar montage of rifle-toting Black Panthers, Afro hairstyles, colorful dashikis, and pounding soul music. This cascade of images both flows from, and further reifies, a broader set of interpretive assumptions which still characterize popular history and even some scholarship, and emphasize the emergence of Black Power as principally an affective event (e.g., a time of “rage”), a generational rebellion of style (e.g., Black Power as “youth” aesthetic), a regional curiosity (e.g., Black Power as the expression of urban northern ghettos), and violence (e.g., whether riot or revolution).

Surely one of the most surprising and welcome developments in historical scholarship in the last twenty years has been a veritable explosion of Black Power history, which has challenged these interpretive frames and filled in glaring gaps in our knowledge of the period. In 2001, the historian Peniel Joseph issued a widely-read clarion call to “reconceptualize” the Black Power Movement, challenging the then-dominant periodization of the movement from roughly 1966 to 1975. For Joseph, that framework was guilty not only of ignoring the much longer postwar history of black nationalism and black radicalism, but also of erecting a Manichean opposition between the civil rights movement and Black Power which ignores the circulation of activists and co-mingling of ideas through both movement’s key organizations. While Joseph, two decades ago, could celebrate just a handful of pathbreaking works, our knowledge about the Black Power movement on questions of postwar black internationalism, gender and sexuality in the movement, the life stories of Black Power women, and the vicissitudes of local Black Power organizing in schools, electoral politics, art collectives, and prisons have grown tremendously.
Yet, despite the vibrancy of this historical literature, the field of Black Power Studies remains criticized along three broad dimensions. First, perhaps haunted by a need to prove its “significance,” defend its scholarly merits against the longstanding demonization of the movement, and recover lesser-known organizations and individuals from archives that are openly hostile to its subjects, there is an understandable temptation to respond in terms that are vindicationist and even hagiographic. Second, and in large part due to the embarrassing failure of social scientists to take up the study of Black Power organizations and the era’s political dynamics (including government repression), there has been a lack of systematic and comparative studies of the Black Power movement’s effects on American political development, enduring patterns of authority in government, and more diffuse cultural and ideological consequences. 
Finally, leading works in Black Power Studies have been criticized for a lack of precision when wrestling with the leading intellectuals, texts, and debates of the period, a shortcoming only magnified by the recent theoretical interest in a wide range of fields in black radical thought as a source of critical insight. Given our specific interests in intellectual history and the history of political and critical thought, this last point should be underscored. While not always recognized, the Black Power movement generated an impressive range of novel concepts that have shaped the landscape of political, ethical, and aesthetic thought today.

By bringing together an interdisciplinary group of historians, social scientists, humanists, and scholars of black political thought, our workshop seeks to build on the existing successes of Black Power Studies to meet the next generation of challenges for the field. We want to push the field further away from defensive modes and unduly siloed modes of engagement, and instead ruthlessly interrogate Black Power’s political dynamics, ideological formations, and conceptual contributions. In doing so, we can better grasp what is at stake, for historical understanding, cultural and aesthetic criticism, and political philosophy, in revisiting that fervent moment of black activism, institutional experimentation, and cultural creativity. Providing a space for students and faculty alike to convene around these themes, this seminar would be a generative space for debate and discussion around the political and intellectual legacy of Black Power, the place of black radical traditions in academic scholarship, and intentional reflection on the contributions that social scientists and theorists might make to this established historical field.
Fellows will present their work in a seminar led by led by Brandon M. Terry (Harvard University) and Jarvis R. Givens (Harvard University Graduate School of Education). Applicants may not be degree candidates and should have a Ph.D. or equivalent. Fellows have library privileges and an office which they must use for at least the 9-month academic year. The Center encourages applications consistent with the Workshop theme and from qualified applicants who can contribute, through their research and service, to the diversity and excellence of the community. Stipends: individually determined according to fellow needs and Center resources, up to a maximum of $66,000. Note that recent average stipends have been in the range of $50,000. 
Apply at https://academicpositions.harvard.edu/postings/11988 no later than January 17, 2023 with recommendation letters due January 20, 2023.